The fabled bear became part of American culture after a hunting trip to Mississippi in 1902, where President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear that was trapped and tied to a tree by hunting guide Holt Collier. The episode was featured in a cartoon in The Washington Post, sparking the idea for a Brooklyn candy-store owner to create the “Teddy” bear.
“President Theodore Roosevelt would have really enjoyed why we are gathered here today,” Secretary Jewell said. “Working together across private and public lands with so many partners embodies the conservation ethic he stood for when he established the National Wildlife Refuge System as part of the solution to address troubling trends for the nation’s wildlife. As I said last spring when the delisting proposal was announced, the Louisiana black bear is another success story for the Endangered Species Act.”
The delisting follows a comprehensive scientific review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the bear’s status. The Service also released a final post-delisting monitoring plan that will help ensure the bear’s future remains secure.
The Louisiana black bear subspecies is only known to live in Louisiana, East Texas and Western Mississippi. The majority of Louisiana black bear habitat falls on private lands, where the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and the Interior worked with farmers to voluntarily restore more than 485,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests in priority areas for conservation. One key tool was the use of conservation easements in these targeted areas, through which USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) worked with farmers to restore habitat on difficult-to-farm lands. This strategic approach became one of the building blocks for Working Lands for Wildlife, a partnership between the Service and NRCS to conserve wildlife habitats on agricultural lands nationwide.
When the Louisiana black bear was listed under the ESA in 1992 due to habitat loss, reduced quality of habitat and human-related mortality, the three known breeding subpopulations were confined to the bottomland hardwood forests of Louisiana in the Tensas and Upper and Lower Atchafalaya River basins. Today, those subpopulations have all increased in number and have stabilized to increasing growth rates. Additional breeding subpopulations are forming in Louisiana and Mississippi, providing a healthy long-term outlook for the species.
The Service proposed to delist the Louisiana black bear in May 2015 after determining the recovery criteria, as defined in the 1995 Louisiana Black Bear Recovery Plan, had been met and that threats to the bear were reduced or eliminated. In 1992, at the time of the listing, there were as few as 150 bears in Louisiana habitat. Today, the Service estimates that 500-750 bears live across the species’ current range where successful recovery efforts are allowing breeding populations to expand. As such, the bear is not likely to become in danger of extinction now or within the foreseeable future.
The ESA is an essential tool for conserving the nation’s most at-risk wildlife, as well as the land and water on which they depend for habitat. The ESA has saved more than 99 percent of the species listed from the brink of extinction and has served as the critical safety net for wildlife that Congress intended when it passed the law 40 years ago.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks acting Black Bear Program leader, Richard Rummel, says that the number of Louisiana Black Bears in Mississippi is a bit of a mystery and estimates the number at 100 to 200, and possibly more. He says, “Bears tend to look alike and because of that bears would have to be captured and tagged to keep up with the population. The resources to do that are not currently available. What is clear is that their numbers and range are both increasing as sightings have been more frequent in recent years.
While the Louisiana Black Bear population is no longer considered endangered, Rummel said the bears will continue to enjoy protection by Mississippi state law and if someone intentionally kills one, the consequences could be painful. It is a Class 1 violation with fines from $2,000 to $5,000, possible jail time, and loss of hunting privileges.